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Exploits of an Amateur Dog Trainer - Introduction and Starting the Journey

Updated on October 8, 2012
kblover profile image

Brian is a dog lover who's highly interested in the mental and emotional lives of dogs. He owns and trains Wally, a Coton de Tulear.

Wally the Coton de Tulear
Wally the Coton de Tulear

Meet Wally

In the photo, you'll see Wally, the subject of hopefully a series of writing about my attempt at dog training. He's the first dog I've ever attempted to train and spend any amount of time with (he's my mom's dog and I watch/train him) and as luck would have it, he's got fearful tendencies.So my challenge is to not only increase his knowledge, discipline, and confidence, it's also to help him see the world isn't a scary, frightful place.

A little about Wally - I've been working with him for about two years now (my, how time flies!). He's about 3 1/2 years old (his birthday is May 27, 2007), and is a male purebred Coton de Tulear. His breed can be known to be a suspicious and wary sort, and that gets compounded by a lack of early socialization. Given what I've been told about his prior life, this seems to be the case. The things he can be afraid of are numerous. Books, boxes, cords, bags, any of those in new places, re-arranged furniture...and that's just things. Sounds can set him off, he's questionable around kids, he won't bite them, but instead just wants to get away from them, and even my mood can get him quivering as he's a soft dog.

So that's the charge under my instruction. I've never done this before and I'm going to make mistakes. Unfortunately, I didn't come here until this late stage, but I can remember what happened before and how far he's come.

Fortunately, he's come a long way since those early beginnings and now we're entering a new world as both trainer and dog - one where everything is now really interesting and he's being more "dog-like" and I'm having to evolve into a trainer that's able to see what he's doing, and how best to use it to further his development and knowledge.

Starting with the recently published Volume 12 of this "series" I guess you could call it, I'll be sharing our explorations in this new frontier.

Also, in an interest of trying to better organize the volumes, I will separate some of the volumes into categories. With this being as much an entrance gateway as an introduction to the series. You can find those categories at the end of this article. More will be added over time as well, so check back often.

Getting Started

The first thing I had to do was learn how to train a dog. If this sounds backwards (learning AFTER getting the dog), it is. Having done it backwards, I can see why they always say to research both the breed or breed mixes (if known) and learn about training techniques before getting the dog. Still, that didn't help now, so I hit google.

I discovered a method called "clicker training" and that fancy title is just, basically, using the clicker to make a sound that the dog will equate to "Yes! You did it right!"

But the dog doesn't know this sound means anything. So we have to teach it the meaning. This is known as "charging the clicker" and that fancy name is essentially getting the dog to think: Hear click -> Look for reward. Once this happens, when can use the clicker to actually delay the reward delivery until a later time. The click itself starts to become the reward as it's a reminder of the good feeling of food (or whatever rewards, but for Wally, Food > All).

"Charging the Clicker" is simple. Press the clicker. Give the dog food. That's it. He doesn't have to be looking at you, just shove the food in his face. When I first did it with Wally, it was just that. Click -> treat (c/t), which was me shoving a tasty treat in his face. He ate it and looked around like "where the **** did that food just come from?!" I did it again, another c/t. And again. And again. Probably about 15-20 times.

Eventually, I could see him making a connection. At first, he looked around like "where's the food?!" but didn't draw the connection directly. By about the 10th time, he was looking where the food was coming from, from my left hand. It was click->Wally looked at left hand. Once that reaction got nearly instantaneous, I know I was getting there. I ended the session with some praise and left him to think about what just happened.

I did this for a few days and he really started getting into it. "Charging the Clicker" was complete. He was actively drawing a connection between the click and the food, and also where the food was coming from, showing he was expecting it's delivery. Perfect. This also had the effect of helping him think good things happen around me because one of the things he was scared of...was me. This helped him get over it and win him over. Now that I had at least a source of reward for him, he had a reason to hang around me and see what this fellow is all about.


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    • kblover profile image

      Brian McDowell 8 years ago from USA

      Heh I can just picture Wally telling a second dog (if I ever got two), "Back in MY day, I had to figure out what the heck he was doing. You newbie just don't understand what I did to make it easier for you!"

      Thank you for the comment and the compliment. I try :)

    • shibashake profile image

      shibashake 8 years ago

      Great explanation on clicker training and such a fun read! Wally is a very lucky dog to have you :)

      I also did my training research ass-backwards, but it worked out in the end. My second dog is a lot luckier than my first dog because she didn't have to go through all that flailing around.

    • kblover profile image

      Brian McDowell 8 years ago from USA

      Thanks for reading. Hopefully something will be of interest and help to you. I figure all us dog owners/trainers are in it together. Even the newbies to the "game" like me! :)

    • chicamom85 profile image

      chicamom85 8 years ago

      Sounds good, we have a very sassy little shih tzu but I am willing to try anything. We are working with the "targeting method" that I have seen on many dog shows and so far it is working.